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Ajax 0 Aston Villa 0: Both sides see red as Villans break unwanted record while Jordan Henderson fails to make impact

ASTON VILLA became the first club to fail to score in Amsterdam as Ajax ground out their first clean sheet of the season in Europe.

However, Unai Emery’s men will be confident of finishing the job at Villa Park on Thursday.

Aston Villa could not find a way past Ajax

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Aston Villa could not find a way past AjaxCredit: Rex
Jordan Henderson captained the Dutch side

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Jordan Henderson captained the Dutch sideCredit: Getty

The Villa boss was confident enough to leave out five of the team which won at Luton at the weekend, as he kept one eye on Sunday’s crunch clash with Tottenham.

And, apart from a late scare when Chuba Akpom fluffed a free header in front of goal, Villa spent most of the night in cruise control.

The only downside was a late red card for Ezri Konsa which rules him out of the return leg, along with Ajax’s Tristan Gooijer who also fell foul of card-happy Albanian ref Enea Jorgji.

Ajax fans celebrated as if they had won at the final whistle but they face a huge task beating Villa on home soil.

The once-mighty Dutch giants have endured a nightmare season where they have seen their team plunge to rock bottom of the Eredivisie after eight matches.

Then in December they crashed out of the Dutch Cup to lowly amateurs USV Hercules – the first time they had ever lost to a bunch of amateurs.

Those disasters led the fallen giants to sack head coach Maurice Steijn and replace him with John van Schip who managed to turn around their fortunes with an unbeaten 12-match run.

But even so, the four times champions of Europe came into this tie fifth, 27 points adrift of Eredivisie pacesetters PSV Eindhoven.

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Ironically, Villa emerged to a sea of white flags being waved by Ajax fans, but far from surrendering the home support got right behind their team.

They cranked the atmosphere up to eleven as the disco lights flickered to life and bedlam ensued as sound bombs boomed and flames shot into the night sky.

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However on the park it was all pretty tame.

Moussa Diaby got Villa off to a positive start, firing in a left-foot shot after five minutes, which Diant Ramaj saved comfortably.

But that turned out to be the only shot on target from either side during a cagey first half.

Ajax’s young side – with an average age of under 22 – were completely bamboozled by Villa’s well-oiled offside trap.

Croatian wideman Borna Sosa and striker Brian Brobbey were constantly snared to their frustration.

Ajax captain Jordan Henderson did his best to lead from the front but he fluffed his lines when presented with a free kick in a good position, curling his effort high.

But gradually Ajax started to grow in confidence and they really should have seized the lead just beyond the half hour.

Eighteen-year-old defender Jorrel Hato sent Brobbey racing clear of Villa’s defence.

But, as he prepared to pull the trigger, Ezri Konsa shoved him with both hands, forcing the striker off balance and his shot ripped into the side netting.

It was a mighty let off for Villa and Emery responded by sending on Matty Cash for Pau Torres at the break and moving Konsa into the heart of defence.

But the really significant changes took place just beyond the hour mark when Emery sent on his big guns.

Skipper John McGinn and Leon Bailey replaced Diaby and youngster Morgan Rogers as Villa moved up a gear.

Ramaj reacted sharply to prevent an inswinging corner from Douglas Luiz creeping in at his near post.

Then Emi Martinez came to Villa’s rescue as he was finally called into action for the first time after 67 minutes.

Kenneth Taylor played a 1-2 with Sosa and fired in a shot but Martinez hurled himself to his right to brilliantly parry the ball away.

It was a huge moment which appeared to suck the spirit out of Ajax’s youngsters.

However they were briefly given hope when Albanian ref Enea Jorgji controversially sent off Konsa, who had become embroiled in an arm-wrestle with sub Chuba Akpom.

The former Middlesbrough striker hit the turf and Jorgji reached for his yellow card, followed by red to rule the defender out of the return tie.

If that seemed harsh, Jorgji soon levelled it up by dishing out a second yellow card for teenager Tristan Gooijer who also saw red for a couple of innocuous fouls on Digne then Zaniolo.

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